Gordon Williams, Gleaner Writer
US loss leaves Boyz in desperate three-way scramble
JAMAICA finally buckled under relentless pressure from the United States and lost 1-0 in their crucial semi-final round CONCACAF World Cup Qualifier here last night.
A curling free kick by forward Herculez Gomez in the 55th minute handed the US a deserved victory after the Americans bossed the Reggae Boyz for most of the evening, creating and missing several goalscoring chances that could have easily widened the scoreline.
The result sent Jamaica tumbling into a three-way tie in Group A with the US and Guatemala on seven points from four games, after the Guatemalans beat Antigua and Barbuda 1-0 yesterday.
It was sweet revenge for the US, who lost 2-1 to Jamaica last Friday in Kingston and it came on a day marked by the anniversary of one the nation's greatest tragedies - the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the US which claimed close to 3,000 lives.
Playing in front of a packed house engulfed by chanting, flag-waving US supporters - clad in red, white and blue - and interspersed by a sprinkling of Jamaicans, the Reggae Boyz tinkered with the starting team that beat the US last Friday in Kingston, replacing Kavin Bryan with Omar Cummings in a straight swap of forwards.
The US shook up their line-up with five new starters, four who did not play at all at 'The Office'. Midfielders José Torres, Danny Williams and Graham Zusi were drafted specifically to add more creativity with the Americans desperately seeking a win. Regular captain Carlos Bocanegra and fullback Steve Cherundolo returned to bolster the suspect US defence.
The Americans also showed their focus would be on attack by shifting formations, choosing a 4-1-3-2 that featured a midfielder sitting in front of a quartet of defenders and three others supporting a pair of forwards.
In a pre-match interview, US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann vowed a "high-tempo" game, with his team going "full speed". The US delivered.
On a beautiful night for football, complete with a neatly manicured field, Jamaica survived a torrid first half dominated by the Americans.
The US started confidently, content to keep possession for long periods before launching an avalanche of attacks - especially down Jamaica's flanks - as the Boyz conceded space and intensity.
The US came close to scoring early and often. In the sixth minute, a good build-up on Jamaica's left flank led to a shot by Zusi that kissed the crossbar with Jamaica's goalkeeper Dwayne Miller in retreat and the crowd roaring its approval.
Jamaica survived another scare in the 14th minute when Jermaine Jones headed just wide of the upright from a free kick lofted into the penalty area.
Jones was upended by Lovel Palmer's hard challenge in the 17th minute, a foul that earned the Jamaican a caution.
The Americans gradually corralled the Jamaicans like sharks smelling blood. They mounted stifling pressure on the Boyz, and when Jamaica lost possession, they switched the point of attack briskly, complementing that with fluid movement off the ball and blitzing counter-attacks that eluded the Jamaican markers.
In the 20th minute, Cherundolo's thunderous right-footed shot deflected off central defender Adrian Mariappa, but was tipped by Miller on to the upright before being cleared away. Shortly after, Zusi, coming in at the far post, watched his effort again thwarted by the alert Jamaican goalkeeper.
On the half-hour mark, Jamaica once more escaped as Williams' blistering strike smacked the upright before ricocheting across the face of the goal with Miller well beaten.
Six minutes later Torres' curling left-footer eluded Miller's outstretched hand, but also cleared the crossbar.
Honduran referee Jose Pineda's half time whistle signalled welcome relief for the Boyz, who failed to take a shot at goal in the opening 45 minutes and hardly troubled the US defence or goalkeeper Tim Howard.
Jamaica came out in the second half hoping to stem the US onslaught. Instead, the Americans opened the scoring in the 55th minute with Gomez's free kick clipping Miller's fingers on its way to the back of the net.
Jamaica tried to respond and looked a bit more dangerous than in the first half, but could not find a goal, even as they brought on Kavin Bryan, Tramaine Stewart and Dane Richards to add offensive punch.
Their only dangerous moment came when Rodolph Austin's long-range effort in the 80th minute forced Howard into a sprawling save - the first time the goalkeeper had been really tested.
But it was not enough for Jamaica.
JAMAICA: Dwayne Miller, Nyron Nosworthy, Adrian Mariappa, Lovel Palmer, Jermaine Taylor, Rodolph Austin, Jason Morrison, Je-Vaughn Watson (Tramaine Stewart - 75th), Luton Shelton (Kavin Bryan - 66th), Ryan Johnson and Omar Cummings (Dane Richards - 76th).
SUBSTITUTES: DuWayne Kerr, Joel Senior, Darren Mattocks, Dicoy Williams, Shavar Thomas, Andrae Campbell, O'Brian Woodbine, Ewan Grandison and Jacomena Barrett.
UNITED STATES: Tim Howard, Steve Cherundolo, Carlos Bocanegra, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson, Clint Dempsey, Herculez Gomez (Jozy Altidore - 80th), Jermaine Jones, Danny Williams, Jose Torres (Brek Shea - 66th) and Graham Zusi (Maurice Edu - 72nd).
SUBSTITUTES: Brad Guzan, Jonathan Spector, Kyle Beckerman, Joe Corona, Michael Parkhurst and Terrence Boyd.
MATCH OFFICIALS, ALL FROM HONDURAS: José Pineda - referee; Oscar Velasquez and Melvyn Cruz - assistant referees; and Raul Castro - fourth official.
CAUTION: Lovel Palmer - Jamaica (17th); Herculez Gomez - US (62nd).